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A Dip in Delmon Young’s Consistent BABIP

On the whole, last season represented another disappointment for former No. 1 prospect Delmon Young. He struck out more often than ever before in his career, and walked at a lesser rate. For the second straight year he produced negative WAR, largely because of his fielding components, but also in part because of negative batting components. It represented the second straight year in which the Twins regretted sending Matt Garza to the Rays.

Yet not all was lost for the young Delmon. It’s easy to forget, because he had been such a hyped prospect for so long, that he was just 23 years old for most of last year. He did show an improvement in his power, posting a .142 ISO, his highest mark since his brief 30-game appearance in 2006. He also showed improvement in the second half. Both his ISO and his K% improved. His batting average also shot up 34 points, despite a BABIP 44 points lower. Even more encouragingly, he capped his season with a monster September, .340/.364/.544.

As R.J. warned us late last year, we shouldn’t look too much into Delmon’s season splits. Plenty of players have posted excellent second half numbers only to revert to their disappointing selves the next year. This is even more true of September performances. The circumstances change that month — benches, especially bullpens, are much longer, and many teams have little left to play for. We’d be better off weighing a September performance in proportion to the player’s career, rather than taking it as a sign of turnaround.

That appears to be the case for Delmon this year upon first glance. Even though he’s producing at a slightly above league average level, a 102 wRC+, he’s still not coming close to his potential. That’s just a look at the results, though. In terms of process, Delmon has showed signs of life. What stands out the most: his walk rate currently sits at a career high level, while his strikeout rate falls far below his career norm. His ISO, .176, also sits comfortably above his career mark. The next stat to the right on his Dashboard also tells a story. His BABIP, .266, is not only generally low, but low for Delmon, who has had a .338 BABIP in each of the past three seasons.

Part of this drop is his balls in play rate. Strikeouts, fly outs, and ground outs are just forms of outs. The only difference is that the latter two count against a player’s BABIP, while the strikeouts do not. It is therefore not very surprising that Delmon’s BABIP has dropped. That drop, however, seems to be a bit disproportionate. If he were merely, say, grounding out where he formerly struck out, his batting average would hardly see an effect. In those terms, an out is an out regardless of how a player makes it. Yet Delmon’s .264 batting average is the lowest of his career.

According to the xBABIP calculator, Delmon should be at around a .314 mark for the season. That’s lower than his normal, but again that’s expected considering his lower strikeout total. At that BABIP, even if all the additional hits were singles, Delmon would be hitting .304/.355/.472. That offensive production, combined with his much improved defense, would provide the Twins with some semblance of the value they thought they were getting in the winter of 2007-2008.

Even as it stands, Delmon has produced positive WAR, 0.5. That includes positive batting and fielding components, the first time Delmon has accomplished that since 2006. If he continues what he’s doing right now — displaying more patience and hitting for power — he might even out some of his early season poor luck and start to approach his potential. The Twins have been patient. It just might pay off with Delmon.